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Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion pushes on despite trademark battle

Sniper Elite dev Rebellion opposes use of the word "Rebellion".

There's yet another trademark battle waging in video game land - this time over the word "Rebellion".

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is a 4X strategy game made by Canadian developer Ironclad Games. This week Kalypso Media announced its intention to distribute Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion - New Frontiers Edition in the UK, Benelux, France, Italy, Spain, Nordics, Greece, Portugal, South Africa, Russia, Middle East and Asia. It bundles together all the Forbidden Worlds DLC as well as the Sins: Rebellion standalone expansion.

The thing is, Rebellion, the UK developer of the Sniper Elite series, is opposing Ironclad's use of the word "Rebellion" in the game title.

There's a bit of history here. In April 2012 Rebellion sent Ironclad a cease and desist order over the use of the word in Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. According to the order, Rebellion alleged:

"There can be only one reason for choosing the name 'Rebellion' as the name of this game, and that is that it is identical to our client's name. The choice of name for your game is designed to confuse members of the public into believing that this game emanated from our client or has been endorsed by our client.

"Alternatively, you have chosen Rebellion as the game's name to take unfair advantage of the reputation of our client or to dilute the distinctiveness of our client's reputation. All these actions are types of passing off that the choice of Rebellion by your company is intended to perpetrate on our client's goodwill. If you are allowed to misrepresent your game in the way indicated, it will cause damage to our client's goodwill".

After the two parties failed to make a settlement, Ironclad fought the claim in the United States and, in May 2013, successfully had Rebellion's motion dismissed. The US Patent and Trademark Office then allowed Ironclad to move forward on securing a trademark for Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.

That's just for the US, though. Now, Rebellion is opposing Ironclad's use of the word Rebellion in Canada, and Ironclad claims it's doing the same in the UK.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.

The issue was again brought to light by Ironclad director and co-owner Blair Fraser in a recently-published blog post.

Rebellion chief Jason Kinglsey told Eurogamer the aggressive trademark protection was the result of trademark law "being what it is".

"This is a news story from two years ago and was reported widely at the time, strange that it should be brought up again now, just before the release of Sniper Elite 3," he said.

"Of course we would have preferred not to take legal action, and we actually first approached them to try and come to an agreement without taking it any further. They rejected our approach, and trademark law being what it is, in 2012 we had to - and be seen to - defend Rebellion in the gaming realm, otherwise we risked losing our trademarks."

The issue rekindles memories of Candy Crush Saga maker King.com's aggressive trademark opposition against games that used the word "saga" or "candy". Eurogamer chronicled The Banner Saga developer Stoic's battle with King.com over its use of the word "saga" earlier this year.

Kinglsey's reference to trademark law revolves around companies needing to demonstrate that they have sought to protect their trademarks - however tenuous the link between the two properties - so if in the future there is a dispute, the opposing company can't say, well, you let them do it, so why not us?

In 2011 Minecraft maker Mojang and Skyrim maker Bethesda had a similar dispute over the word "Scrolls" - a dispute that was eventually settled.

So what happens next? Kalypso seems undeterred. A spokesperson told Eurogamer that as far as it is concerned there are no issues and it is going ahead with the game's retail release on 25th July. Ironclad has vowed to continue fighting Rebellion's trademark claims.

"We fully expect they will continue this worldwide but so long as the countries they choose to oppose us in protect freedom of expression, we intend to continue fighting," Fraser said.